Today one of my favorite artists of all time, died at age 94.
I have had the honor of seeing Pete Seeger perform many times. As a child, my parents took me to see him perform with Arlo Guthrie. I saw him at festivals as a teen, and as a young woman. When he was 89, I took my baby daughter to see him at Lincoln Center. I was certain that it would be the last time. But it was not. In the spring of 2012, I snapped this photo of a 93 year old Pete Seeger hanging out at the children's stage at the Clearwater Music Festival. And I saw him perform there again in the spring of 2013.
Pete Seeger has been part of my life, all of my life.
He was a man of great integrity. He music created a portrait of our society, and he never hesitated to celebrate what was beautiful, and to criticize what was wrong. He used his art to challenge racism, the oppression of women, wage inequity, abuse of immigrants, the pollution of the Hudson River, blind patriotism, and dozens of other inequities that he witnessed over his lifetime. He influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, but never let anyone forget that all great American music was rooted in the art created by the black musicians who were not, at the beginning of his career, to even sit in the same music hall as white musicians.
In spite of the fact that he famously put Biblical passage to music (Turn, Turn, Turn), he identified most of his life as an atheist. In a recent interview, he made a more ambiguous statement:I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.
I’ve had preachers of the gospel, Presbyterians and Methodists, saying, “Pete, I feel that you are a very spiritual person.” And maybe I am. I feel strongly that I’m trying to raise people’s spirits to get together.
I'm home from work with a sick kid today, listening to Pete Seeger. And I'll be sharing some of my favorite songs.
Here is a piece recorded a half a century ago: